If you’ve read one of my columns before, you probably have seen a bit of a pattern: Bring up a current event, talk about its broader implications and why you should care. Rather than start out with some current event, let me tell you a little about a thesis I’m working on.
I’m currently drafting a philosophy thesis which seems rather topical. Specifically, I’m taking aim at much of the gendered language we use each and every day that can have negative effects on all of us. Think of how men often insult other men by accusing them of sounding too effeminate, or how women are criticized for being bossy or controlling when they speak as any man would in a managerial position. The gist is that we often use gendered language that perpetuates strict gender roles and norms, sometimes without even realizing it.
While working on my first draft, I’ve read and watched quite a lot of content that demonstrates why I am writing about gendered language. The first was a tweet by former Democratic House Representative Tulsi Gabbard. She shared an article that brought up really important information about how pregnant people are vaccinated at much lower rates than the general population and at higher risk of hospitalization and death. However, instead of bringing up any of the important aspects of the article, Gabbard thought it was terrifically insightful to tweet: “Pregnant PEOPLE? Read that headline again. Some hate women so much that they literally want to erase even the word ‘woman’ from our vocabulary.” The title she is referring to includes the term “pregnant people” instead of “pregnant women.” Why? It’s because transgender men and nonbinary people can still have a uterus, be pregnant and thus be at higher risk of the complications that the article discusses. The wording is accurate and more inclusive. Vaguely gesturing to a cabal of transgender activists, including women, both cisgender and transgender, who are trying to “silence women” by uplifting queer representation is just the latest piece of conspiracy and fear-mongering from Gabbard. But hey, I really shouldn’t be surprised that the same representative who proposed a bill that effectively banned transgender youth from sports just earlier this year and who called people fighting for civil unions a “small number of homosexual extremists” back in 2004 might be a little transphobic. I hope the gift is at least worth it.
The other piece of media I came across was Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special. Before you react, full disclosure, this is the first piece of Dave Chappelle’s comedy I have ever watched, and yes, I did in fact watch the entire thing before starting this column. I have two pages of quotes and timestamps to prove it. Although I would love to write a dissertation on the subject, we only have space for the SparkNotes. My first reaction was how, frankly, uninformed the gender-related commentary was. I’m not saying jokes about transgender people aren’t legitimate, but just like how Chappelle mentioned in relation to race, there’s a difference between laughing at and laughing with someone. Misgendering multiple “transgenders” and mocking the “LGBTQ, LMNOPQXYZ” community isn’t the novel joke he thinks it is. I was saddened to see someone who clearly recognized that transgender people do exist then ignorantly say they’re “team [trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF)].” The first two letters of the acronym quite literally mean “trans-exclusionary,” and, without getting into the details of the ideology, this bastardization of feminism is a hate movement hell-bent on invalidating all transgender and nonbinary people to strip anti-discrimination protections. Being pro-transgender and pro-TERF is like being pro-Black and pro-segregationist — it’s a complete contradiction. Platforming this type of language is both misleading and not genuine to Chappelle’s true, though inarticulate, position on transgender rights.
One more criticism I have of the special was the utter unwillingness to engage with the other side. None of us are born with a Ph.D. in how society works, so I don’t fault ignorance and I am always open to differing opinions and perspectives. But what Chappelle demonstrated was a reactionary dismissal of criticism without explaining why his critics are wrong. It was frankly baffling listening to someone whine about critics saying his jokes punch down at transgender people to then immediately go on to ignorantly employ every overused edgy joke in the book for half an hour. But sure, Chappelle’s anecdote about an angry listener “tricking” him into complimenting her transgender daughter is just as bad as weaponizing a transgender woman’s suicide to discredit dissenters of uninformed and transphobic “comedy.”
Although I would love to dive into more examples, I think that’s enough for one column. My point here is very simple: Be thoughtful with language. That doesn’t mean you can’t make jokes, nor does it mean that we should expect people to be born knowing how to speak in the most inclusive way possible. But let’s try and be open to seeing that just because we have said something for a long time doesn’t mean it’s right or good to do so. Shakespearean English looks a bit different from English nowadays. We shouldn’t expect our English today to be identical to that in another 500 years.
Eleanor Gully is a senior triple-majoring in economics, French and philosophy, politics and law.